Tag Archives: Florinda Bolkan

The Last House on the Beach (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers hold nun hostage.

Aldo (Ray Lovelock) leads a gang of three robbers who stage a bank robbery in broad daylight, but things go wrong and lives get lost. During the getaway their car breaks down and they’re forced to hideout in a nearby home that sits next to a beach. Inside the home is Sister Christina (Florinda Bolkan) a nun who takes in wayward teen girls and helps them find their way. She was in the middle of rehearsing a play with them when the men break-in. The thugs soon takeover, raping two of them while terrorizing the rest. At first the women are compliant, feeling they have no other choice, but eventually they decide they’ve had enough and turn-the-tables on their captors.

While this film will initially come-off as just another Last House on the Left rip-off the production values are much better than most American low budget cheapies and the location quite scenic. The place didn’t look like any type of religious school to me and more like an ocean front pad for a rich person, it was more than likely the home of one of the film’s producers who decided to use it in place of a real school to save money, but the setting ultimately still works. Too many other horror movies feel the need to go for the cliché, like having things take place at night in some abandoned building, or rundown home, so having it work against this is a refreshing change. In some ways it makes it even scarier because it shows that bad things can happen even in the affluent suburbs and that nobody is truly immune from crime and violence.

I liked the way the bad guys were all good-looking too especially Aldo whose face could be on the cover of  teen heartthrob magazine. Again, other horror films feel the need to make the killer look menacing, disfigured, or creepy in some way, but working against this stereotype makes it more unsettling by showing that anyone can harbor evil. The women are all good-looking too with great figures, but in this regard it doesn’t work as it didn’t seem realistic that only women who looked like models would join this school and there needed to be at least one plain-looking, overweight one to give it balance.

The set-up happens a bit too quickly. It would’ve been more frightening if things had been shown at the start from the women’s perspective, rehearsing for the play, and then having these robbers burst in unannounced versus showing the robbery, which ends up getting reshown through flashback later on anyways, and everything from the men’s perspective. Horror works when there’s a surprise and in that regard this film misses a prime opportunity early on.

However, once it kicks in I was surprised how compelling it was. There isn’t a lot of violence, but when there is it’s bloody and pretty graphic, even the injury that one of them receives (Stefano Cedrati) looks quite realistic, and shown close-up, and I liked how this becomes and on-going part of the plot and doesn’t just magically heal and get forgotten.

The film also features two prolonged rape segments with the first one done in slow motion. Some may say this is exploiting the situation, but ultimately it ends up making it even more unsettling. The second rape  is equally disturbing as it features a woman (Sherry Buchanan) being violated by a wooden cane and done from her point-of-view.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending for me was the best part. Rape and revenge flicks have been done a lot and there’s also been films like Straw Dogs where a wimpy guy ultimately turns violent through necessity, but this film does it better than those. Seeing the angry looks on the once tranquil women’s faces as they take turns beating the man to death was actually pretty shocking as you’re not quite expecting it. It successfully hits-home the fact that anyone can be provoked into violence even those that deny they have that ability and gets the viewer to realize they harbor that tendency too since these guys were so vile you actually end-up enjoying seeing their comeuppance.

Alternate Title: La Settima Donna

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Francesco Prosperi

Studio: Magirus Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

don't torture a duckling 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the children?

The setting in this Italian giallo is a small, rural village where the children of the townspeople are being murdered. At first the police suspect and arrest a mentally handicapped man (Vito Passeri), but the killings continue. Soon even more suspects turn up including Maciara (Florinda Bolkan) the mother of a dead child herself who secretly practices voodoo using dolls made by her father and yet every time the authorities believe they’ve found the culprit more clues arise that leads them to someone else creating panic in a town already steeped in fear, suspicion and the superstitious.

As a story detailing a police investigation it’s not too bad. The plot works in a linear fashion that’s easy to follow without entering in too many subplots or red herrings although it’s still no better than your average episode of ‘Murder She Wrote’. I did enjoy the rural Italian landscape and the bird’s eye shot of the village whose decrepit, rundown buildings visually hit home the stifled, bleak nature of the residents and why they would turn so heavily to the spiritual world as their sole escape.

Balkan’s performance as the nutty lady is effective particularly when she has a seizure during her interrogation and the scene where she gets surrounded by men who belt her with chains is quite graphic and realistic.

The film though, like with a lot of Italian productions from that era, does have dubbing issues particularly director Lucio Fulci’s use of adding in all the sound effects giving it a certain over-the-top cartoon quality. For instance when a victim is being slapped by a man’s hand it sounds more like the lashing of a whip and even simple stuff like the shoveling of dirt comes off wrong because the sound effect is not in sync with the action on the screen.

The film also has a uncomfortable moment where an adult character (Barbara Bouchet), who is one of the protagonists, walks around naked in front of a 12-year-old boy and even asks him how many women ‘he’s done it with’.

Spoiler Alert!

Guessing who the real killer is was easy and I had the whole thing figured out after about 30 minutes making the rest of the mystery predictable and boring. The idea of a priest killing children might’ve been considered shocking at the time, but now as with Fulci’s criticism of the Catholic Church it comes off as heavy-handed and redundant.

The close-up, slow motion shot of the priest falling down a cliff at the end is the film’s most controversial moment as it is clearly a dummy whose blank eyes and unnaturally agape mouth looks incredibly fake. Some have argued that this was Fulci’s attempt at revealing the ‘inner ugliness’ of the character by showing something with such a distorted face, but since a similar looking mannequin is also used to portray one of the boy victim’s submerged in a tub of water earlier I think it can safely be said that it was more just the cheapness of the production than anything else.

End of Spoiler Alert!

don't torture a duckling 4

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Lucio Fulci

Studio: Medusa Distribuzione

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video